Wearily, I blinked as the smell of bacon, toast and scrambled eggs hit me in the face the moment I entered the restaurant of the hotel we were staying in. I suspected that this time, I wasn’t the first one to get here. According to my Blackberry I had missed my usual wake-up-time by two hours but I was still dead tired. I took a look around the room, which was full of morning people blissfully eating their breakfast – a group I use to count myself to, just not today.
“I’m sorry sir, but we’re full. You can wait at the hotel bar until someone leaves, if you wish to,” a stressed waiter rushed, trying to usher me out into the lobby. Quite amused by this, I shook my head and gazed over my shades in order to look him in the eyes properly.
“No problem I’m just gonna sit at my friends’ table,” I said, smirking a little.
“Uh… sorry. Go along,” he muttered, embarrassed, and went on dashing through the aisles between the many tables.
A loud, throaty laugh then caught my attention. Confidently, I strode towards one of the more secluded tables, putting my hands into the pockets of my black hoodie. Planting myself in front of it, I smiled down at my friends and family.
“Mornin’,” I greeted them, still tired.
“Oh look, Sleeping Beauty finally woke up,” Tomo teased me, which made me shot him a playful death glare. Shannon proceeded to laugh.
“We were just talking about you,” Emma explained before taking a bite out of her french toast. I nodded and sat down next to my brother, who calmed down after a minute’s time.
“Hey Jay,” he said and pulled me into a quick hug, which I returned.
“Where’s Vicki?” I asked, looking over at her significant other. Tomo took a sip of his coffee – that caffeine addict! – and raised his eyebrows.
“She’s packing bags. We’re leaving 11 o’clock sharp.”
“What’s the time again?” I wondered aloud.
“Almost 10,” Emma chimed in, finishing her breakfast.
I cursed silently under my breath and ran my hand trough my hair. “Well, I can eat in the bus. I better start packing now.”
Shannon shot me a worried look but I reassured him with a pat on the back. ‘I’ll eat, I swear,’ I mouthed to him. I knew he was always concerned about my health – we had had enough talks about that. Waving at the others, I rushed back out of the restaurant, earning strange looks along the way. Not that I cared.
With a click, the door to my suite opened and I entered the miniature corridor. Picking up scattered clothes while making my way to the living room, I overlooked the creative chaos I had created in the few days we’d stayed here. Clothes and notes lay all over the suite, on the bed, the floor, the chairs. The only spot relatively organized was the work desk my Macbooks were placed on. Actually, I was a very tidy person. But if I didn’t have the time to clean up after myself it usually looked like this. Just like I said, creative chaos.
Putting the pile of clothes that I had picked up aside, I grabbed my Macbooks, gathered all the corresponding wires and gadgets and neatly stored them away in my blue suitcase. That being done, I devoted myself to cleaning up the bathroom.
“Tomo?” I called, knocking on the wooden door. Tapping my foot in impatience, I waited until someone opened up. Vicki smiled and gestured me to come in, her hair was in a sweet disarray which made me wonder if I had interrupted them with something.
“He’s in the bathroom, taking a shower,” she said as we walked into their hotel suite. “Are you finished with packing already?”
Shaking my head, I leaned against the next wall. “I’m missing my hair conditioner, I thought Tomo might have it.”
“So?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and leaning back against the opposite wall to face me. “You think he kidnapped it, Jay?”
I huffed playfully and crossed my arms. “You’re probably in cahoots with him. My poor baby, alone in an unfamiliar hotel room…” I drifted off.
“He’s better off with Tomo, Jared. Let him go. He will be happier with him – he has a lot more hair than you do,” she replied, looking up to me – she was such a tiny thing – trying to convince me of the truth in her words.
I frowned in disgust. “See, you don’t even know that it’s a she.”
Vicki frowned back at me. “Crap I should’ve known. Everything you own is always female. What’s with that anyway, Jared? Trying to make up for the lack of female company in your life?”
My eyes must’ve been as huge as plates as I stared at her with my mouth agape. She couldn’t have said that. I didn’t feel like I could move any longer, the shock that was slowly sinking in had made me stiff as a board. Was that what everyone was thinking about me?
“Oh fuck,” I heard Vicki say. “Jared. Jared Joseph. Please stop looking at me like that, I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to come out that way, really.”
I continued gawking at her like a deer in headlights. She had thought it, but hadn’t wanted it to come out that way. Everyone was thinking that I couldn’t keep a woman in my life. Everyone was fucking thinking this.
She pushed away from the wall and walked up to me, making eye-contact. “Jay, that’s not –”
Vicki was interrupted by the bathroom door opening noisily. Tomo, wet and covered only by a white towel around his hips, stepped out. The moment he saw us, he stopped short. “Oh, Jared, what… Vickibee? What’s going on?” he stammered, looking back and forth between his wife — they had married by now — and I.
“Nothing,” I muttered and moved away from Vicki. Stiffly walking past my dear friend and lead guitarist, who just stood there trying to comprehend what was happening, I entered the bathroom he had just walked out of. The room was filled with humid air and the mirrors were steamy, I looked around for the bottle I had been looking for but really wasn’t this interested in anymore. “There it is,” I said under my breath and bent over to grab the half-empty bottle that lay in the shower caddy.
“What are you doing?” a voice asked behind me. Someone grabbed my shoulders, forcing my to turn around. Calmly, I looked Tomo in the eyes. “Just retrieving my conditioner,” I said holding up the bottle.
“Jared… that’s mine.”
“What?” I took another look at the label. “Oh.” I ran my hand over my face, shooting my friend an apologetic glance. “Sorry. I’m kind of out of it.”
He shrugged. “’s alright. What kind of bottle were you looking for? I didn’t take anything.”
I moved to put the bottle back to where I had found it, aware of the pair of eyes that were watching me worriedly. “I’ve been missing my conditioner since… I guess I must have left it in the Vegas hotel. My hair’s all strawy without it, you know.”
“We’ll buy another one when we arrive in San Francisco,” Tomo suggested.
“Yeah,” I agreed, suddenly feeling very stupid. ‘Yeah’? Was I some teenager? “I’ll go back to my room, my clothes won’t pack themselves.”
“Sure, we’ll meet up in the lobby in twenty minutes, right?”
“Exactly,” I nodded. Awkward silence started to fill the room. Waving quickly, I moved to leave their suite and get back to packing, time was running out. Vicki’s words were still nagging on me. The ‘lack of female company’, she had put it. That was weird because until recently – I couldn’t really remember, how many months had passed? – I had had a girlfriend. But yes, she had been the first since a long, long time and it hadn’t lasted very long, either. Vicki was right. But overall, I didn’t try to make up for anything. I wasn’t desperate.
Did they think I was?
I didn’t know why this was upsetting me so much.
Thirty minutes later, the whole Mars crew had gathered in the lobby, missing one. Emma was standing next to me, trying not to lose her patience. I could see Tomo and Vicki talking in the corner of my eye. Suitcases were everywhere and the noise level was a little too high for my taste. Sighing, I snatched my Blackberry out of my pocket and checked the time. Even the smallest delay involved rescheduling. It was better to arrive on time this afternoon because we were supposed to walk on stage at 9pm.
“Honestly, I thought you would be late today, not Shannon,” Emma grumbled next to me and opened up her ponytail so that her hair could fall freely over her shoulders. Turning my head, I looked at her sceptically.
“Why me?” I asked.
“You were a little dopey today. I don’t know. But you were just in time, as always.”
“Dopey,” I repeated, tilting my head. I chose not to react to it.
“If your brother doesn’t appear in 5 minutes he’s going to get an ear full,” she went on complaining, “I have to check everyone out of the hotel but I need his keycard.”
“I’ll just have to go get him,” I said the second the elevator doors opened to reveal a hurried looking Shannon. Notably irritated, he began to drag his suitcase – unlike me he only had one – in our direction. Obviously, that wasn’t fast enough for Emma who met him halfway to rid him of his keycard. As soon as she had it in her hands, she stalked off towards the counter without a word, leaving him a little puzzled.
I smirked when he arrived in front of me. “What’s with your case?” I asked, eying it.
Shannon grunted and kicked it in the side, making me raise a brow. “It’s broken. The wheels are off. Spent twenty minutes trying to get them back on before I thought ‘fuck it’ and came here.”
“Em was seriously close to spitting fire here.”
“And my poor baby brother had to endure it?” he asked mockingly.
“Nah, I only feared for your life.”
“Alright, folks! Move your lazy booties to the buses, will you?” Emma called across the hall, apparently done with checking out. Quickly, everyone gathered their baggage and went for the revolving doors.
“Looks like I’m gonna be spared,” Shan said under his breath as the group split between crew and band. Both of us went to climb into our band bus, greeting our driver politely. Tomo and Vicki followed behind us. I went to store away my suitcases under my bottom bunk while my brother did the same with his. The bunk above mine was unoccupied as we only needed five beds and had six, so I put my guitar bag up there. Space was always a problem when it came to storing away things one needed during the bus trip or didn’t want to put in the trunk.
Emma was the last person to get in the bus. We sat down on the synthetic leather couches around a little wooden table next to the kitchenette. The whole time, Vicki had been trying to make eye contact with me. Instead of acknowledging this, I concentrated on what Emma had to say.
“Although we are a little on delay,” my lovely assistant started off, glancing at my brother who pretended not to notice, “I think we’re gonna make it to the venue in time. Still, I suggest we won’t check into the hotel until after the show, that’ll give us extra time.”
I nodded approvingly. “What about the Meet & Greet? Did you ask Diana how many it are this time?”
“Not that many, she said no more than thirty,” she answered.
“I think we should put it prior to the show, who’s with me?” I looked around. Everyone made noises of agreement.
“That way we won’t have to rush because of the hotel,” Tomo chimed in.
“I could arrange that,” Emma said, “but it’s not really what I had in mind. I need to make sure everything happens in time and we don’t need the extra hassle.”
“I trust your judgment,” I nodded. “If you think it’s better we do it afterwards then there’s no reason not to. If you’d inform the hotel that we’re going to be late?”
Emma agreed and typed something into her phone. Just then, our bus driver turned on the engine and we lined up behind the crew bus and the truck that carried the instruments and technics that drove in front of us.